1920s battle for Spiegelhalter’s could flare up again at Mile End after 90 years

Wickham's former grand department store at Mile End... with Spiegelhalter�s stuck in the middle [to

Wickham's former grand department store at Mile End... with Spiegelhalter�s stuck in the middle [to the right of the tower] - Credit: Archant

A battle which was won in the 1920s to preserve Spiegelhalter’s little jewellery shop in London’s East End could soon flare up again after 90 years.

Blink and you miss the run-down, shabby premises—but won’t miss the ostentatious former Wickham’s department store that surrounds it on three sides along the Mile End Road.

The architectural oddity results from developers back in the 1920s failing to persuade the owner to sell up to make room for their Selfridge-style department store.

Wickham’s had to make do building around the two-storey Victorian shop, buttressing their grandeous palace either side and to the back.

Now the Victorian Society has added its voice to calls to save Spiegelhalter’s from 21st century redevelopment.

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It is a symbol of the spirit of the East End—which the society says should be preserved.

“Speigelhater’s is not itself the most architecturally important building,” the Society’s conservation advisor Sarah Caradec said. “But in its context, it is amusing and tells an important story about the East End’s development.”

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The society is worried that present-day owners might demolish the former jewellery shop, although no planning application has yet been submitted.

Spiegelhalter’s earned its place in East End folk lore in the 1920s for refused to sell out to Wickham’s, which went ahead and built their grandiose department store with the little shop stuck in the middle—and there the impass remained for the rest of the 20th century and right up to the present day.

Ian Nairn, author of Nairn’s London and one of as Britain’s foremost topographical writers, said: “It’s one of the best visual jokes in London—a perennial triumph for the little man, the blokes who won’t conform.

“A bleak thought is that, if Wickhams’ problem had arisen today, smooth lawyers and architects would probably have presented a case for comprehensive redevelopment and persuaded the local authority to use compulsory purchase powers.”

The Victorian Society is urging Tower Hamlets Council to have Wickham’s grand palace — with Spiegelhalter’s stuck in the middle — locally listed to ensure it continues telling its ‘David and Goliath’ story to future generations.

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